The following is an excerpt from Phycisians weekly, by Wellness Warriors founder, Stephen B. Thomas, PhD. To read the full article, you can select the “Read More” button below.

Most people don’t know the history of barbershops and health. A brief review of the literature uncovers centuries of evidence dating back to the humble origins of dentistry and surgery.  Today, these prestigious specialists are far removed from their humble origins. In past centuries, barbershops were also a place for medical care. While I’m grateful that medicine evolved, there is value in remembering the connections between the two. Barbershops and salons are places of connection, conversation, and community. Barbers and stylists have the trust of the people in their neighborhoods. Important conversations of the day are often discussed, and debated, in barbershops. So, it makes sense that we think back to the original meaning of the red and blue barber pole and make barbershops and salons a place where health conversations and interventions can take place.

This is exactly what we did more than a decade ago. For many communities, trust is more important than science and credentials. A doctor may give great health advice, but they may not be aware that someone in the community with no degree but a lot of trust is “overriding” the doctor’s advice. It begs the question:

We leveraged our relationships with medical systems and local public health departments to deliver clinical services in Black barbershops and salons. Together, we trained a cadre of Black barbers and stylists. To accomplish this required simulation training of healthcare professionals and the barber/stylists. Our aim was to help more barbers and stylists complete state requirements to become Certified Community Health Workers (CHW). By embedding CHWs within Black barbershops and salons, we are more likely to have sustained engagement with medical and public health systems incorporating hyper-local services into their reimbursement models. We desired community health workers to maintain roots in their neighborhoods where they have established a deep fund of good will, trust, trustworthiness, and street credibility needed to help healthcare professionals navigate local cultural nuances. Our equity-framed approach to community engagement provided the fulcrum needed to advance the recognition and garner the support that CHWs demand to help improve care coordination in the community.

This health equity partnership amplified the voices of neighborhood influencers as credible sources of health information, adding value to our healthcare delivery system collaborators. Far too many Black people live in neighborhoods overshadowed and embedded in the catchments of local health departments, community hospitals, and academic health science centers, yet they live sicker and die younger due to being poorly served, underserved, and never-served by the systems responsible for health promotion and disease prevention. Our partnership flipped the script: We brought health services to the people in their neighborhood rather than herding people out of their neighborhoods to health services systems.

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